hands on a laptop image

Avoid injury in your home office

by Rhea Maze

When office life ground to a halt last spring, many people had to quickly adjust to working remotely. Now that we’re many months into the global pandemic, it’s a good time to assess how your home office setup is working for you.

If your chair, or desk, or computer is at the wrong height, for instance, it can cause aches and pains in different parts of the body. Having an
“ergonomically correct” work area is key to keeping you healthy and at your most productive.

“Ergonomics is about designing the workspace to best fit and accommodate the worker so that they can be efficient and avoid injuries,” says Iolanthe Culjak, a physical therapist, certified ergonomic assessment specialist, and founder of Optimum Ergo.

Culjak’s remotely working clients mostly report neck and back discomfort. “People were used to going into an office with good task chairs and desks,” she says. “Now, they’re working at home on whatever furniture they have. Many are using a laptop, which cannot be ergonomically correct without an external keyboard and mouse.”

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to ergonomic corrections, as every person is unique and is working with different environments and equipment. 

“If a workspace is not ergonomically correct, it forces the user into awkward postures, which is a leading cause of musculoskeletal disorders in the workplace,” Culjak says. “I help people proactively avoid injury and protect their bodies so they don’t end up in physical therapy—and so they can enjoy life outside of work.”

Reboot!

Zoom fatigue. Crisis fatigue. Wearing-all-the-hats fatigue. In stressful times, it’s even more crucial to ensure our workspaces are set up to help keep us healthy. Culjak offers some tips:

DIY

“It doesn’t take expensive things—you can find things around the house.”

  • Use boxes or books as foot rests and to raise your keyboard up so that your visual screen is at eye level or slightly below and about an arm’s distance away, which is going to put you in the position to look at your screen without extending or looking down.
  • Add a cushion to a too-hard seat and use a rolled-up towel for low back support.
Straighten up

“Be aware of good postures and use them as much as possible.”

  • Your ears should be lined up with the midline of your shoulders and lined up with your trunk.
  • If working at a desk, your shoulders should be relaxed and your elbows by your side.

“Your body will tell you if you’re not in a good posture or you’ve been doing something for too long.”

Zoom out

“Human beings are not built to stare at computers all day.”

  • Use the 20/20/20 rule: Every 20 minutes, look away from the computer to a distance of at least 20 feet away for 20 seconds, and blink several times to remoisturize your eyes.
Worth the money
  • A proper-fitting task chair that adjusts for height, seat depth, lumbar support, and has adjustable arm rests is ideal if it’s in your budget. (See if your company will reimburse you.)
  • Use an external, ergonomically designed keyboard and mouse from your workplace or invest in them.
Take care of #1
  • Get plenty of sleep, stay hydrated, eat healthy, and keep exercising.

“Your body will pay the price with bad ergonomics, but even with good ergonomics you can fall into poor postures. So, address the ergonomics first and then move onto other health aspects. You’re more productive when you feel well.”

Move

“The first and most important thing you can do is warm up for your workday.”

  • Get your blood circulating with movement and stretching that warms up your shoulders, forearms, hands, and fingers.
  • If you work standing up (or spend part of the day at a standing desk), warm up your legs along with the rest of your body.
  • Change positions and take movement microbreaks every 20-30 minutes.

“Even with good posture, our body needs to move. We need blood flow to our muscles and tendons to avoid discomfort or injury.”

Pay attention

Think of twinges of discomfort you feel as being like the check engine light in your car. “It’s your body’s way of telling you that something isn’t working and you need to change it up,” Culjak concludes.

Proactively address issues before they become chronic problems and utilize ergonomic experts when you need help.